The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa City Sober Living home opens

Founded by two nurses who have had their own recovery journey, the nonprofit looks to provide support for women who are in recovery for substance abuse in Johnson County.
Isabella Tisdale
Merrilee Ramsey releases a butterfly during the Iowa City Sober Living women’s home opening in Iowa City on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023.

Iowa City Sober Living, a nonprofit committed to creating a safe and sober environment for women in recovery, held its long-awaited grand opening on Sunday.

The two-story house was filled with the community of Iowa City enjoying the brightly lit and decorated house. People spent time eating cookies, drinking lemonade, and talking about the space’s beauty and its importance to them. The house was funded by grants from Johnson County as well as donations to IC Sober Living.

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The IC Sober Living home is different from a typical rehabilitation facility. With enough beds for eight women at a time, the home acts as a supportive environment for people in recovery intended to provide accountability and structure.

Women can stay at Sober Living anywhere from three months to a year. Sober Living is not covered by insurance, but several local business opportunities exist within close proximity to allow women to work while living at the home. The first program resident is moving in Sunday evening.

The nonprofit was co-founded by two nurses, Sue Gardner and Merrilee Ramsey, who have both experienced substance abuse in the past.

Gardner said putting work into the nonprofit and giving back helps them with their own sobriety.

“In order for us to keep our sobriety, you have to give it away,” Gardner said.

The Sober Living home is the first in Johnson County. Ramsey and Gardner believe Iowa City needed such a program after visiting a friend in recovery living in a sober living community in St. Paul, Minnesota.

From Ramsey and Gardner’s idea, the pair formed a board composed of seven members, including themselves. Ramsey said she was overwhelmed with emotions seeing the Sober Living house come to fruition.

“I woke up this morning and it was just this emotion over me,” Ramsey said. “I can’t really believe that this is happening, I mean, I knew it would because we never gave up.”

Ramsey said the nonprofit was able to raise $200,000 — one half came from grants, and the other from donations from the community — which made the house possible.

Housing Lead Hannah Hayes will live in the house and is responsible for conducting drug tests and helping women with their sobriety. She said the facility is different from a traditional rehab facility because of the community and it does not include direct medical services.

“It’s more home, we can do house cleaning together,” Hayes said. “We can do things together, have groups here, it’s just more at ease. I think it’s going to bring a lot of good vibes out into the community here and give people a fresh start. They deserve it.”

Jake Gardner, Sue Gardner’s son, said watching the idea grow has been special for him.

RELATED: Iowa City Sober Living searches for a home

“For me, it represents a milestone not only in my mom’s recovery, but also just spreading the word about recovery,” he said.

Ramsey said additional donations are being used to create an Iowa City Sober Living Recovery Fund for when women get out of recovery, they can have financial support.

“If they can pay it back later in life, that’s great. If they can’t, that’s okay too, but we want to help as many women as we can,” Ramsey said.

To cap off the grand opening, Ramsey, along with the board of IC Sober Living, released a monarch butterfly. Ramsey said the monarch symbolizes the women they plan to help grow out of their substance abuse.

“We’re going to protect them just like this cocoon is protected because they’re not quite ready to go free,” Ramsey said. “But by the time they spend three months, six months, maybe a whole year with us, they will turn into a beautiful woman just like this little critter here.”

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About the Contributors
Jack Moore
Jack Moore, News Editor
Jack Moore is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is from Cedar Rapids Iowa. Along with working at The Daily Iowan, Jack works for the University of Iowa's UI-REACH program as a Resident Assistant. UI-REACH is a program for students with learning, cognitive, and behavioral disabilities intended to provide support to these students throughout their college experience. Additionally, Jack is involved in Iowa City's live music scene as he plays bass for local Iowa City band "Two Canes."
Isabella Tisdale
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.